Video highlights by Jon Perez and Halley Harris
By Matt Feldman
July 22, 2016
COTUIT — Up 6-0 in the top of the ninth inning Friday night, all indications pointed to Cotuit finally breaking its five-game losing streak and beating the Firebirds for the first time this season.
But it wouldn’t be that easy.
A strong ninth inning from the Orleans (16-18-1) offense which saw the Firebirds score four runs, almost spun the game around for Cotuit (12-22-1), who held a six-run lead just an inning prior. But Cotuit was able to hold onto the lead, closing out the game and topping the Firebirds, 6-4.
After two two-run home runs from A.J. Balta (Oregon) and Jordan Pearce (Nevada) that sailed into the trees in right field thanks in part to a swirling wind, the Kettleers were up 4-0 early on the Firebirds.
Add to that a stellar start from hurler Matt Ruppenthal (Vanderbilt) for the Kettleers, which saw the right hander allow no runs on just one hit in five and one-third innings, and Cotuit seemed poised to grab its twelfth win of the season Friday night.
“There’s no doubt that any time you get a lead early it really helps,” Roberts said. “(Ruppenthal’s) change up to me was his best pitch tonight … and (changeups) help you get easy outs, easy strikes, and because of that he went through the first five innings against good left handed hitters really well.”
But with just one inning left in the game and a 6-0 lead, the Kettleers ran into trouble.
After Taylor Lehman (PSU) relieved Ruppenthal, allowing just three hits on no runs in two and two-thirds innings, Cotuit head coach Mike Roberts optioned to pull Lehman for right hander Tyler Roberson (UNC-Wilmington) to toss the ninth inning. Roberson last pitched July 16, an appearance in which he gave up a run in both the eighth and ninth innings against Bourne and blew two save opportunities.
“I felt like Josh needed to come out after the Bourne outing and see if he could regain his direction and maybe his confidence,” Roberts said. “(Lehman) was doing a great job, and sometimes (putting in a closer) works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
But the confidence wasn’t there again for Roberson, as he allowed a run and then loaded the bases to put the score at 6-1.
With just one out and the bags juiced, Roberts pulled Roberson, optioning the game ball to left hander Alec Byrd to close it out for the Kettleers.
“We’ll go back to work with (Roberson),” Roberts said. “He’s got a great arm, he just needs direction … his release point is not very consistent.”
Byrd didn’t start off well either, allowing a single to Brian Miller (North Carolina) in the very first at bat of his appearance. As the ball was relayed in from Quinn Brodey (Stanford), it sailed over Jordan Pearce’s head at third. Backing up the play, Byrd snagged the errant throw as it fell into the Kettleers dugout, just barely saving an overthrow that would have allowed another run to score.
Still the single scored two, and the score moved to 6-3. Fans that had been leaving the ballpark suddenly began to linger, noticing the action building and the runs piling up for Orleans.
A fielder’s choice on the next at bat on a ground ball from Ethan Paul (Vanderbilt) scored another, and with two outs and a runner on base, Cotuit’s lead had been cut to 6-4. But just when it seemed Byrd’s composure would slip, the left hander struck out Adam Haseley swinging and ended the threat.